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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the January 8, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Hanging Out with Ernie White
Like so many other talented, driven musicians, guitarist,
singer and songwriter Ernie White learned quickly enough that there
are no pensions in the music business. White and other veteran musicians
from the Trenton area who go back to the 1970s, like Joe "Zook"
Zuccarello and Paul Plumeri, fondly remember a time when they could
make their living playing clubs in greater Trenton. Eventually Zuccarello
took a job teaching music in the Trenton public schools, Plumeri works
for the New Jersey Office of Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly,
and White learned he could stabilize his income and craft a living
from music by opening his own recording studio and delivering guitar
lessons on the side.
He opened LeBlanc Studios in his Hamilton Township home in 1995. Two
excellent, roots-rock oriented albums have emanated from his home
studios, "Rude Awakening" in 1999, and "Scenes From America"
in 1997. White has since released an acoustic album, "Ernie White
Unplugged" on his own LeBlanc Records label. On both releases,
White brilliantly fuses together elements of blues, classic R&B, jazz,
and pioneering, 1950s-oriented rock ‘n’ roll. All the album songs
"The studio in the home came out of needing a studio to do my
own thing at," he explains, "and I started with that premise
in mind. Then it evolved into taking in other people and recording
their projects as well."
The name LeBlanc comes from his father, he says. "It was my dad’s
actual last name, he was French Canadian, and when he immigrated to
America in the 1930s, they thought it would be better to change their
last name to White, to blend in."
White, 48, was raised in Hamilton and began playing guitar as a 10-year-old.
Like fellow Trenton-area guitarists Plumeri and Zook, White says seeing
the Beatles on TV had an impact, as did Ricky Nelson on the old "Ozzie
and Harriet" television show.
"I had a private teacher, Charlie Keintz. He was based in Trenton,
and he was my musical mentor in the early days. Through high school,
I was in the jazz band and concert band and any band I could get into
at St. Anthony High School," says White.
White knows he came of age at a great time for New Jersey clubs and
a great time in the development of rock ‘n’ roll music in America.
"All kinds of great music was coming out of everywhere at that
point, in the late 1960s and early 70s," says the 1972 high school
"In the early 70s, we were playing — all of us — six nights
a week, sometimes five sets a night. And you could play every night
of the week, sometimes you’d play one place two weeks in a row. You
could learn so much by hanging out and seeing other bands, there were
so many others around," he recalls.
"I would hang out just to learn, listen and cop a riff. I remember
on a night off, I would hang around and listen to Joe Zook play and
then go home to my living room and try and duplicate what I’d heard
Considering the brushes with fame he has had, one couldn’t blame White
if he decided back in the early 1990s that he wanted to throw in the
towel. Instead, he continues to pursue his own highly stylized vision
of rock ‘n’ roll, playing at clubs around New Jersey and New York,
including the Tap Room in the Nassau Inn, where he plays Friday, January
By 12, White was playing in his first rock ‘n’ roll band. Sam The
Band, a group he joined in his early 20s, was signed to Casablanca
Records in the late 1970s, then home to the rock ‘n’ roll group Kiss.
"I was in my early 20s, a huge fan of Sam the Band, and one day
they called and said they wanted me to audition for a guitarist spot.
It was a dream come true, because next thing I knew, I was on a big
jet plane to record with them out in the Rocky Mountains." Alas,
Casablanca Records folded and Sam The Band’s recording with White
on guitar was never released.
White then joined a band called Aviator, managed by now Sony Music
president Tommy Mottola. Mottola steered the band to RCA Records in
the late 1980s, and the Britain-based Escape Records in the mid-1990s
released the group’s self-titled debut in Europe.
"The drummer and bass player, the original members of Aviator,
were involved with Tommy Mottola in previous groups," White explains,
"and one thing led to another. They called me and we started writing
and doing demos together on four-track machines, ’cause that’s all
we had back then. We took our demos up to Tommy, because before Sony
he was with Champion Management, and he invited some RCA reps out
to a club in 1985 and the next day we were signed."
Mottola went on to a legendary career in the record business and now
heads the behemoth Sony Music. "I’m in the process of sending
him some recordings of an artist, Elissa Sapp, that I’m working with
over here," says White, "and thankfully, his ears are still
White began his diversification process — offering guitar lessons,
creating his own production company, and recording studio — in
the early 1990s.
"The way I look at it, if you want to make it nowadays, if you
want to be self-employed as a musician, you need to diversify a bit,"
he argues, "and I still like to keep my fingers in the scene by
playing clubs gigs wherever." The key is White isn’t dependent
on fickle club owners and managers for his main source of income.
At the Tap Room on Friday, White will be accompanied by Mark Sacco
on drums, Tom Reock on keyboards, and Frank Wirtz on bass, a group
that comprises his working band for the last seven years.
White’s first self-released album, "Scenes From America,"
was re-released in Germany on MTM Records, and the album got some
radio play in Germany and other parts of Europe. "One day I got
a call from this guy in Germany and he happened to be one of the few
Aviator fans in Germany, and he explains, ‘you don’t understand, you
people have a cult following over here in Germany.’ So after the album
was re-released in Germany, I thought there would be some tour money
and we’d have a chance to go over there and play, but it never happened."
White’s 1999 release, "Rude Awakening" is distinctly autobiographical,
he explains. The front and back covers depict White with pieces of
bedroom furniture, out in the woods. It’s his way of displaying a
sense of humor about the end of his second marriage. The back cover
of the CD depicts White talking on the phone, sitting on his bed,
in the middle of the woods. Songs like "Walk Alone" and "It
Ain’t My Dream" describe his feelings after going through his
second divorce. White has two children from his first marriage, Mike
White, 29, a drummer, and Christopher White, 27.
"I have a musician and a scholar, because my son Christopher just
got out of grad school from Princeton with his master’s degree in
engineering," he says.
Asked about his inspirations on guitar through the years, White says
"my bag has always been that I’ve always liked a lot of different
styles: I like a bit of blues, a bit of jazz, a bit of reggae. My
music is a hybrid, I guess." He cites Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana,
Jeff Beck and Duane Allman as influences.
White has also had a few brushes with fame as a songwriter. An Ernie
White song appears on Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora’s latest solo
album, "Undiscovered Soul."
Like any seasoned jazz musician, he knows the intrinsic value of hanging
out, or as David Amram calls it, "hangoutology." "The
songs we do are from the heart," he says, "if something big
happens for the Ernie White Band, fine. If not, we’ll just keep doing
what we’ve been doing. You never know: The phone rings and you answer
— Richard J. Skelly
January 10, 10 p.m.
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